A Survey of Conservation Easement Restrictions on Private Forest Land to Determine their Effects on Forest Management and Timber Supply

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Virginia Tech


Conservation easements are increasingly becoming a popular land use control for landowners, government agencies and non-profit conservation organizations. These legal documents restrict a landowner's development rights and constrain other property uses. The landowner (grantor) voluntarily places an easement on his or her property, while the government agency or qualified conservation organization (grantee) holds it in perpetuity.

While the Land Trust Alliance's (LTA) most recent estimate of easement-protected land amounts to nearly 2.6 million acres in 2000, an estimate of forestland protected is nonexistent. Additionally, no empirical studies address forest management on current easements nationwide, although a few studies address forestry at the state- or regional-level. As a result, this survey was designed to address three goals by sampling 1,527 conservation organizations and 63 state government agencies that may hold conservation easements. The first goal estimates total forestland protected. The second goal determines forestry restrictions commonly found in current easements. The third goal ascertains the impact of easements on forest management and timber supply.

Survey results show that over 536 conservation organizations and 20 state agencies hold over 16,025 conservation easements on 4.9 million acres of all land types. Of these totals, a minimum of 3,598 easements protect over 2.5 million forestland acres. Forest management restrictions tend to vary based on the protected property's forest resources. The desires of the grantee holding the easement also influence the type and level of forestry restrictions. To date, conservation easement restrictions do not appear to impact timber supply nationally, although local or regional timber supply may be impacted in the future, especially in the Northeast.

Several conclusions offer technical insights on forestland protection by conservation easements. First, grantees should complete a baseline forest inventory prior to placing an easement on a forested property. This inventory provides a basis for drafting effective easement provisions and permits future monitoring. Second, grantees should encourage professionally-written forest management plans on every working forest easement. Third, all conservation organizations need to work cooperatively with government agencies in locating potential conservation lands. GIS/GPS technology helps demonstrate the spatial relationship of conservation easements to other government-protected lands, promoting efficient location of properties that augment other protected lands.



timber supply, timber harvesting, conservation easement, forestland protection, easement restrictions, forest management